Article IV: Of the Resurrection of Christ

This post is part of a Lenten series on the 39 Articles.

Article IV: Of the Resurrection of Christ
Christ did truly rise again from death, and took again His body, with flesh, bones, and all things appertaining to the perfection of man’s nature, wherefore He ascended into heaven, and there sitteth until He return to judge all men at the last day.

Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. That threefold declaration is about the most basic statement a Christian can make, beyond the even more basic “Jesus is Lord.” Really, if we can’t make the threefold declaration about Christ’s death, resurrection, and coming again, we’d have to ask our selves basic questions about our ability to call ourselves Christians.

But then it starts to get more complicated. There are plenty of people who would claim that faith in Christ’s resurrection means assent to the idea that Christ popped back to life just as he had been alive before. That seems to be what this Article claims: “Christ…took again His body, with flesh, bones, and all things appertaining to the perfection of man’s nature.”

That’s a tough one for lots of people. Let’s talk about two ways it poses a challenge. For the scientifically minded, it’s hard to swallow the notion that someone was dead and then came back to life. But then any number of aspects of the Christian (or even religious) worldview would be rejected out of hand. And, frankly, scientists ought to be less confident or self-assured in some of their truth claims. If anything, science has a long history of reversing itself. That’s fine, and progress in knowledge and wisdom is something to which all of us should strive, whatever our worldview. (Christians would do well to do this!) Just because science can’t explain something today does not mean that science will be unable to explain something tomorrow. That’s the subject for another post.

There another way in which assert Christ’s bodily resurrection can pose a challenge, and that comes from the bible itself. Remember Emmaus? Christ hung out with his closest friends for quite a while and they did not recognize him. Remember the upper room? Christ appeared in a locked room. If Christ had just popped back to life just as he was before, there should not have been a challenge in recognizing him. And regular people do not just appear inside locked rooms.

You see, it is clear that the resurrected Jesus Christ is not the same as the earthly, pre-resurrection Jesus Christ. Well, he is the same person, but his form was clearly different. This should not surprise us. His life was different from other lives. His death was different from other deaths. And his resurrected form was peculiar.

So while asserting the truth of the resurrection is essential for Christians, I’m not sure we should be too rigid on saying exactly what form that resurrection took. Why must we assert corpuscular resurrection in order to believe in new life? Perhaps we need to open our eyes and our minds a bit to make room for God to work in ways that we cannot easily explain. (Do you see the irony in people of faith getting rigid in their faith. Where is the room for God’s power?)

The mystery of the ascension is another one we should be careful about. It is enough to say that Christ returned to heaven; we need not say how many clouds he passed or the velocity of his motion whilst ascending.

Then there’s judgment. I’ve heard very few sermons in Episcopal congregations about judgment. We ignore this at our own peril. While I do not think the threat of judgment should be used as a blunt weapon to coerce good behavior in this earthly pilgrimage, I do think it is utter folly to imagine there are going to be no consequences for our choices in this life.

This Article breaks no new ground. Everything here is from the scriptures and creeds, with the possible exception of specificity around the mechanism of Christ’s resurrection. Still, there is plenty to ponder here.

Here are some questions on which you might meditate:

  • Does it matter to you in what form Jesus Christ was resurrected? What about your own resurrection at the last day?
  • How could the humanity of Jesus Christ be fully manifest in his resurrection when resurrection itself is not something that we have experienced (yet) as humans? Or maybe the question is this: how should we re-imagine our ideas about humanity given the experience that Jesus Christ shared with us in his resurrection?
  • Jesus’ disciples could not recognize him at times when he was resurrected. In what ways do we sometimes fail to see Jesus among us?
  • How might our faith and our church be changed if we spent more time thinking about (and praying to) a Jesus who is our judge and not just our friend?

Almighty God, who through your only-begotten Son Jesus Christ overcame death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life: Grant that we, who celebrate with joy the day of the Lord’s resurrection, may be raised from the death of sin by your life-giving Spirit; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Previous: Article III: Of the going down of Christ into hell
Next: Article V. Of the Holy Ghost

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5 Responses

  1. Matt Gunter says:

    Scott,

    Thanks for this and for this series. Great idea. It seems to me that the most fruitful and faithful territory lies somewhere between “he popped back to life just as he was before” and it was merely a spiritual or metaphorical reality.

    Jesus rose bodily, we are told, but the resurrection body is transfomed/transfigured into something beyond what it was.

    Here is my take, which may sound rigid to some:
    http://intotheexpectation.blogspot.com/2010/08/real-resurrection-is-essential-to.html

    And a stab at why it matters:

    http://intotheexpectation.blogspot.com/2010/08/matter-of-matter-and-why-it-matters.html

  2. Scott Gunn says:

    Matt,

    Agreed on all counts. In my post, I was responding to the language of the Article which, it seems to me, overstates the same-ness of the body of Jesus Christ after his resurrection and before it.

    Now, as you say, I think the truth of it must be more complex than that. Jesus surely didn’t just start living again in his same body. How else would one explain the times he was not recognized or his supernatural appearances inside locked rooms? And surely he was not brought back to some kind of spiritual life absent a real body. This latter claim would contradict the scriptures as well — and undercut the very faith we proclaim.

    So let’s agree that Jesus was raised to new life. In a body. And yet that body — that new life — was somehow different from his body and his life before the resurrection.

    As to why it matters, it’s because “Jesus Christ overcame death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life”.

    Thanks for your comment. Please do stop by again.

    Peace,
    Scott

  3. Roo says:

    Thanks Scott – I always understood the Resurrection body in the context of 1 Corinthians 15?

    Ruairidh

  4. Scott Gunn says:

    Ruairidh,

    Yes, indeed. I wish the Article had just incorporated 1 Cor 15 by reference.

    Peace,
    Scott

  5. Bob Chapman says:

    We have the latest Psalter Hymnal in this household. In trying to plough (spelling intentional) through the various Reformed statements of faith in the back of it is very tiresome. Everything is footnoted. Everything is explained. There is no room for exploration or to take them as your own. You are told what to believe.

    The 39 Articles, while based upon Scripture and theological thought, are declarative statements. They allow for the types of discussion being fostered in this series. Each of us gets to figure out what each believes. It is good not to include 1 Corinthians 15 by reference.

    As a friend told me that (1) Luther figured out theology with friends over beer, (2) Calvin figured out theology in his study with wine, and (3) Anglican figured out their theology in Parliament. While this is a good place to insert a joke about Anglican theology, authority, and practice, there is something good to say about this: we are much more accommodating to variant thoughts on the same subject. The 39 Articles were written that way so as to make it through Parliament.

    The statements of confessional-based denominations, like the Lutheran and Reformed bodies, lack room to grow in grace and understanding while holding to the intended meanings of the Augustana, Dordt, and so forth. (You probably can guess my feelings about the Anglican Covenant at this point.)

    About passing through walls and scientific thought: The professor I had for an Atomic and Nuclear Physics course in college was an Episcopalian. Once, when answer a question from someone about the space between various particles and their vibration (a subject which came not long after Easter that semester), the professor said, “If you could make the molecules in your body vibrate at the right rate, you could pass right through that wall.” When he said this last statement (“you could pass…”), he looked directly at me–even though someone else asked the question he was answering. I think at that point the professor really was answering the rector of the local parish and his inability to accept certain parts of scripture, as stated in sermons.